Bhutan and India Lock in Cross-Border Rail Route During His Majesty’s Visit

In a significant development aimed at fortifying the strong bond between Bhutan and India, His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, have come together to expand cooperation across multiple domains. A special emphasis has been placed on cross-border connectivity, a move that promises to bring both nations even closer.

The momentous agreement was reached during the recent meeting between His Majesty The King and the Indian Prime Minister. The leaders engaged in warm and constructive discussions regarding the enduring friendship between their countries, reflecting the close ties and shared values that bind Bhutan and India.

King Wangchuk’s visit to India was met with enthusiasm, as Prime Minister Modi expressed his pleasure, saying, “Pleasure to welcome His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk to India. We had very warm and positive discussions on various facets of the unique and exemplary India-Bhutan relationship. Deeply value His Majesty’s vision for the development and well-being of the friendly people of Bhutan.”

Key areas of cooperation between Bhutan and India include trade, technology, cross-border connectivity, mutual investments, education, and people-to-people connections. The leaders have laid out a roadmap for the future, and several significant agreements have been reached to propel this partnership forward.

One of the most noteworthy agreements pertains to the Final Location Survey (FLS) for a proposed cross-border rail link connecting Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan, a project that has received the full support of the Indian government. The Preliminary Engineering-cum-Traffic (PET) survey of the rail-link by Indian Railways has already been successfully completed, paving the way for further developments in the region.

In addition to the Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link, both countries are exploring the possibility of establishing a rail connection between Banarhat in West Bengal, India, and Samtse in Bhutan. This would not only enhance connectivity but also boost trade and tourism in the region.

Further strengthening the ties between the two nations, the leaders have designated Darranga in Assam and Samdrup Jongkhar in Bhutan as immigration check posts. This move will facilitate the entry and exit of third-country nationals by land route, fostering greater connectivity and promoting tourism.

Acknowledging Bhutan’s request for ‘concessional financing’ in the areas of skill development and capacity building under the GyalSung Project, the Indian government has committed to a positive consideration. This step aims to enhance the skills and capabilities of the Bhutanese people, contributing to their socio-economic development.

The Haldibari-Chilahati rail route, connecting West Bengal in India to Bangladesh, has been designated as an additional trade route for Bhutan’s trade with Bangladesh, further diversifying and expanding Bhutan’s trade avenues.

To support Bhutan’s development, the Indian government will provide bridge financing during the transition from the 12th to the 13th Five-Year Plans for projects and schemes assisted by India.

Infrastructure will also receive a boost, as the two nations work to upgrade the existing Land Customs station at Dadgiri in Assam to an Integrated Check Post with support from the Government of India. Simultaneously, facilities on the Bhutanese side at Gelephu will be developed, fostering efficient trade and commerce between the two countries.

Environmental conservation and wildlife preservation are paramount to Bhutan and India. Both nations are committed to safeguarding the ecological diversity of the region and have strengthened their collaboration in these vital areas through a memorandum of understanding.

Education and healthcare are also in focus. Additional MBBS seats will be allocated for Bhutanese students in medical colleges in Assam, ensuring access to quality medical education and training for Bhutanese nationals. Furthermore, the Ambassador’s scholarship for Bhutanese students pursuing higher education in India will be doubled, enhancing educational opportunities for Bhutan’s youth.

As Bhutan and India continue to build upon their enduring friendship, these agreements promise a brighter future for both nations, fostering connectivity, development, and cooperation. This collaborative spirit is set to further strengthen the unique and exemplary relationship shared by the two countries.

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